Albania on cloud nine at maiden success

"It's not only a victory for the squad but for all Albanians around the world," defender Mërgim Mavraj said, his side elated at having won their first major finals game on Sunday.

Romania v Albania - Group A - UEFA Euro 2016

You only had to see the look on Armando Sadiku's face when he scored what proved to be Albania's winner against Romania to sense what the goal meant to his team – to his whole nation for that matter.

The celebrations that greeted Albania's maiden finals success at the final whistle in Lyon were equally exuberant, but that was just the start. Even at midnight, as the players' bus pulled away from the Stade de Lyon, they were still singing "Ti Shqipëri më jep nder" (You Albania Give Me Honour) – and while the squad were straight to bed when they got home, fans and team staff stayed up late to talk over the game.

Lorik Cana, whose late entry as a substitute had helped ease nerves as Romania battled for a leveller, summed up exactly what makes his side special at this UEFA EURO tournament. "Desire. The desire, the heart, the sacrifice that we have, because it's something incredible in our team. Maybe in some departments we have less than others, but when it comes to sacrifice we make up for a lot of things," the centre-back said.

Out in the streets, that passion played out in a different way; chants of "Shqipëri-Shqipëri" (Albania-Albania) rang out in the early hours of Monday morning in Lyon, while a chorus of car horns heralded their success in the streets of Tirana – and in a good number of Albanian expatriate communities around the world.

For centre-forward Sadiku, the knowledge that his 43rd-minute strike had brought such joy to his countrymen, at home and abroad, was a source of huge pride. "It was a very emotional moment," he said, struggling to do justice to the magnitude of the occasion. "A very happy moment to see all the Albanians; to make them happy and see them rejoicing. For this I am very pleased."

The vast crowds that have followed Albania at UEFA EURO 2016 are a diverse bunch; some from Albania and Kosovo, yet also large numbers from the diaspora in Europe, North America and beyond. That diversity – reflected also in the number of foreign-born Albanians in the national team – goes some way to explaining that this has been a truly international celebration.

"This moment cannot be described – for those that are not here, it is difficult to find the right words," defender Mërgim Mavraj added. "It's not only a win for the squad but for all Albanians across the world. Today we didn't play just for ourselves, but for all the Albanian supporters that have supported us along the way, and this win is dedicated to them.

"This crowd is just one part of that support. I know that throughout the world there are Albanians that have been behind us. I know we have made them happy. And I want to thank our sisters and brothers that believed in us. This is an extraordinary feeling. We have played not just as a squad, but with the help of millions of people at the same time."

Whether the long-awaited Group A win will be enough to put Albania in the round of 16 remains to be seen. Whatever happens, though, the Albanian fans will always have Lyon.